The FINANCIAL — Diego Armando Maradona, the legendary Argentinean football player and Coach of the National Team of Argentina left Georgia with the legacy of an empty stadium. Maradona’s arrival in Georgia was not as impressive as it could have been, considering the almost empty stadium when he played.
“This project was not successful from an organizational point of view. But our success is that Maradona arrived in these difficult days in Georgia to encourage the Georgian people. Those who were interested in Georgian football should have come and stood with me, but nobody believed that Maradona would really come to Georgia,” Nikoloz Patarkalishvili, the event organizer, Chairman of Culture, Sport, Tourism and Business Relations Federation told The FINANCIAL.
Maradona with other famous veteran stars like Goiko Echea, Kanija Mancuso, Almeida and Borelli Amat arrived in Tbilisi. The delegation of South American soccer legends landed in Tbilisi International Airport on October 22 and was accommodated at the Sheraton Metechi Palace.
According to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass the Argentine asked the hotel to remove all alcoholic drinks from the mini bar in his suite for the duration of his time in the Georgian capital. The former Napoli hit-man arrived with the rest of the team and was given the luxury suite in one of the city’s best hotels.
The match between Maradona and his Argentinean team and Georgian football legends was held at the Tbilisi Paichadze National Stadium on October 25. The Georgian team included veterans who had participated in the farewell match of Georgian football player Shota Arveladze. The score stood five to three in favour of Argentina.
Ticket price started from GEL 10. The most expensive ticket was GEL 150. When organizers guessed that the stadium would not be full, they reduced the price of the most expensive ticket to 50 GEL on the day of the game.
Only 5 thousand tickets from a total of 60 thousand were sold. Patarkalishvili did not disclose the sum of the total income, as he says “it has not yet been counted”.
Before the game, as the stadium was almost empty, security opened the gates and let people without tickets enter the stadium. The game started 45 minutes later than was scheduled.
“The reason for the almost empty stadium was that fans did not believe that Maradona would really come to Georgia,” declared Patarkalishvili.
“Maradona’s visit to Georgia was independently organized by Niko Patarkalishvili. He had the exclusive right and was in charge of all the organizational issues and relative positive or negative consequences. The Georgian Football Federation helped Patarkalishvili in getting the veteran soccer players together and arranging a meeting at the airport. We also compensated visa costs,” Sandro Tsnobiladze, PR Manager of Georgian Football Federation (GFF), told The FINANCIAL.
In Tsnobiladze’s words, Patarkalishvili did not ask GFF for help in regards to organizational issues.
“We would not have refused him help. We could actually have avoided the failure of this project. Patarkalishvili could also have asked for help from other organizations. From the beginning we had doubts about this project. It was unrealistic for just one person to be in charge with all the different issues. I was sure this project would fail,” he added.
According to Tsnobiladze, Maradona was late getting to the stadium by 45 minutes. The reason, as Patarkalishvili explained, was Tbilisoba, an annual public festival. Because of heavy traffic and crowds celebrating in the streets it was impossible to be on time. Even so, all these external factors could have been taken into consideration beforehand.
“I have had long negotiations with Maradona. Back in February he sent me a letter, confirming his October arrival in Georgia. At the end of September I travelled to Buenos Aires and came back on October 3. I had very little time to deal with all of the organizational issues and I asked to postpone the Argentineans’ arrival to November 5-10. However this period was not convenient for them,” Patarkalishvili told The FINANCIAL.
As Patarkalishvili noted, they had signed a contract with Maradona and the Argentinean football players. The price of the contract is confidential. Part of the income should have been transferred to a refugee’s fund, but it was not done. Patarkalishvili won’t confirm whether Maradona and the Argentinean football players received any money or not, what the organizer said was that the promised advance payment was not done.
“I informed the Football Federation about Maradona’s visit and they helped me in technical issues. But nobody helped me in other organizational problems. We didn’t manage to do good advertising for Maradona’s visit so that’s probably why we failed to fill stadium,” Patarkalishvili added.
As he later confirmed, Maradona did not leave Georgia unsatisfied and the rumours that he refused to play at the stadium are false. “I believe that Maradona will arrive in Georgia again next June.”
According to Patarkalishvili, they’ve started working on a new project. In June 2009 Patarkalishvili is going to a arrange a tournament in Tbilisi where the four youngsters combined teams from Georgia, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay will participate and it will be named the Maradona Cup. However this time he will bring the teams to Georgia only after all organizational issues have been solved on a government level.
Diego Armando Maradona is an Argentine ex-football player, regarded by many as the greatest football player of all time. In 2000 Maradona shared the FIFA Player of the Century award with Pelé after finishing first in a FIFA internet poll on the best player of the 20th century.
Maradona won many trophies with Boca Juniors, FC Barcelona and SSC Napoli over the course of his career. During an international career that included 91 caps and 34 goals, he played in four FIFA World Cup tournaments, leading the Argentine national team to its victory over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup, in which he collected the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player. He scored both goals in the 2-1 victory over England in the quarter-final of the ‘86 tournament. The first goal was an unrealized handball known as the “Hand of God”, while the second goal was a spectacular 60-metre weave through six England players, commonly referred to as “The Goal of the Century”.
He is also considered one of the sport’s most controversial figures. Maradona was suspended for 15 months in 1991 after a failed doping test for cocaine in Italy, and then again for ephedrine during the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
After retiring from playing on his 37th birthday in 1997 he suffered ill health and weight gain, hardly helped by ongoing cocaine abuse. However, a stomach stapling operation helped control his weight gain. Since overcoming his cocaine addiction, he has become a TV host in Argentina.
He is scheduled to become the new head coach of the Argentine national football team in December 2008.
Written By Sopho Kheladze